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AUTHOR Henry Brooks Adams reaches out from before the time of electronic publishing to give us a fundamental truth about the marketing today of words in any medium, particularly in electronic formats. "The difference is slight, to the influence of an author," wrote Adams, "whether he is read by five hundred readers, or by five hundred thousand; if he can select the five hundred, he reaches the five hundred thousand."
Although he didn't know it then, Adams is writing about database marketing, the third most important development after electronic publishing and information highways to empower authors and entrepreneurs seeking to publish profitably, or to get their messages to their target audiences. Database marketing offers you previously undreamed of efficiency in targeting your titles directly to those most likely to be interested in them.
Except for purely creative or personal works, such as poetry and autobiography, identifying the right database of potential readers should be the first step in creating a successful title, rather than first writing and compiling an electronic publication, then looking around trying to identify the market for it. To be profitable, almost any work must be reader-driven, created to fit the needs of a defined database of readers who will be most interested in its subject matter and treatment. For example, if most of your target readers have sound systems on their computers (Fig. 4-1), make sure your publications exploit it.
It is virtually impossible to make money publishing today if your marketing depends on buying advertising space or engaging in direct mail to reach mass markets. The cost and wastage are simply prohibitive. Of course, if you have a really hot title or author, you might be able to generate enough sales to cover the cost of an effective mass-market publicity campaign. But such titles are the exceptions, and most of them are best handled by the big publishing houses.
The general rule for the small publisher and self-publishing author is to zero in on your prime prospects and concentrate your efforts on reaching them. There must be close coordination of the creative and marketing processes, with the inherent advantages of electronic publishing giving the self-publisher significant advantages.
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The best starting point is usually to identify the professional organization, special-interest group, trade association, or specialist publication that caters specifically for the readers you are targeting. There might only be one, or perhaps several, such means of reaching them.
The next step is to verify that there are bulletin boards, newsletters, journals, conferences, or at least cost-effective mailing lists to provide vehicles through which to promote your title to potential readers. Rethink your project carefully if there are severe restrictions on using these resources. Some professional organizations will neither give you exposure in their journals, nor permit you to rent their lists of members. If you cannot see a cost-efficient way to reach your target readers, rethink the validity of your entire project--unless, of course, you just want to do it for fun, personal satisfaction, or some altruistic motive without an income-generating element.
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When you identify a target market with a database and cost-efficient ways of using it, you have a good starting point from which to launch a project. The viability is enhanced greatly when you link that database to a closely matched source of information or expertise to tap into. Electronic publishing can be very efficient at linking hard-to-find information with the readers who have a need to know.
For example, I am involved in a multimedia title that will help owners of older air-cooled Volkswagen cars and vans prevent their vehicles from overheating. It became a viable project when we identified a technician with unique experience in this field, and two monthly magazines with affordable advertising rates and appropriate editorial opportunities to reach a large proportion of our target readers. Our testing of those comparatively low-cost media will influence whether to launch an enhanced CD-ROM version that might economically incorporate video clips from stock, and further sequences and searchable specification sheets and catalogs from manufacturers.
So much has been written, so many seminars given, and so much nonsense spoken about the so-called secrets of successful marketing that any would-be electronic publishing entrepreneur would be well advised to get back to basic commonsense essentials. There are no miracle ways to market publishing's hardcopy or electronic products--although being able to load an entire electronic publication, or promotional material for it, to a few bulletin boards and see it spread quickly around the world comes close to being miraculous!
Your publication will not be distributed or even read if it does not meet a need for the end-users and is not competently put together. That maxim applies also to marketing over the new information highways. Do not expect them to be a cheap and easy way to make
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money from writing and publishing mediocre material. What you write and publish must meet a need from readers who you can reach with your marketing to tell them what is available. Your publication must be written and presented to an acceptable standard, and released in a format appropriate to its markets.
Of course, there are exceptions, but they do tend to prove the basic rules. For example, a uniquely successful bookstore in Arizona sells only one book. It succeeds, not so much because of the subject matter or content of the book, but because of the novelty of a bookstore in which the colorful author sits and promotes his volume of homely anecdotes about Western life. It pulls in lots of tourist business, but I cannot see it working on the Internet. Nor, as several publishers and bookstores have already declared, is this book appropriate for conventional print publishing and distribution.
Book publishers, distributors, wholesalers, and retailers are being challenged by a steadily increasing number of alternative ways of selling books. Electronic-book (e-book) retail outlets are not limited to computer stores or bookstores. Just as printed books have broken into many nontraditional retail categories, so can publications on disks, with specialty stores, hardware and home supply centers, drug stores, souvenir shops, and many others being potential sales outlets if they cater for the same consumer categories as your title.
The acceptability of your electronic publication by retailers could well be influenced very much by its packaging. You will find it much easier to get good selling positions and do some realistic test marketing if you package your titles in attractive and functional point-of-sale displays. These can be expensive to create in small quantities, but good results can be obtained by dressing up the plain cardboard display units sold by larger office suppliers, and printing and paper supply stores.
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In these display-unit packages, you get a set of cut-out card sheets that fold and slot together into a display case suitable for counter display. There are various sizes available, with those used for displaying printed flyers suitable for compactly packaged disks. You can customize these display cases by sticking on desktop-published material containing the title, descriptions, price, and other essential information. Make this information bold, graphic, and easily read so that it attracts impulse purchasers. You can create the point-of-sale display material on your computer, print a color master out on a laser or inkjet printer, and then have color copies made at a printshop.
This is a good application also for silkscreen printing, so that you can have display material on all the visible faces of the display unit printed in one pass before the display is folded.
It is common wholesale practice to offer the display along with the product as a package for a minimum order of, say, 10 units. When the retailer reorders, you just supply the product to go into the display unit. These cardboard point-of-sale displays also lend themselves to racking operations, where the publisher visits the retail outlets and replenishes the inventory that has been sold to keep the rack full.
Some of these marketing concepts have been used with a remarkable electronic publication, the world's largest cookbook, CookBook USA from J&D Distributing in Orem, Utah (800-847-2890). Over a million different recipes are crammed onto a single CD-ROM. The exact number is 1,094,579, including 893 recipes for diabetics and 80,943 different ways of preparing brownies!
This remarkable compilation comes from over 4,000 different regional cookbooks that in print would cost $30,000, and take up a lot of shelf space--all strong marketing and publicity points to amplify the attention-grabbing title. A practical feature for readers is the option to print out individual recipes as 3-´-5-inch hardcopies, the size of cards often favored by recipe collectors for ease of reference.
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J&D realized the potential for selling this kind of publication in nontraditional bookstore or software outlets, and has been offering retailers an imaginative multilevel marketing package. The $800 dealer kit comprises 20 CD-ROMs with a recommended selling price of $49.95 each, 40 floppies made up of five in each of eight categories of specific recipe selections, and a wooden display rack with signage. For smaller orders, or to restock the rack, wholesale discounts range from 40% for single CDs or floppies, to 50% in lots of 250.
Obviously, the key to the project was having ready access to the original print versions of the cookbooks, which have been published over many years. Many titles would be permanently out of print and just disappear from view, if it were not for this unusual electronic publishing project.
Many of the marketing methods used by print publishers to sell through nontraditional outlets can be applied to electronic publishing, which is why you might benefit from joining local or national organizations that still focus almost exclusively on printed works. Those that offer cooperative marketing programs can greatly reduce the costs and risks, and increase the results, of your marketing program. Such organizations can be particularly cost-efficient in direct-mail promotions to target markets such as librarians and professional organizations.
Local self-publisher groups tend to be richer in creative diversity and high hopes than they are in marketing expertise. However, The Publishers Marketing Association and its associated state and regional publishers' associations bring together many professionals, and provides a range of cooperative marketing activities. The PMA is a nonprofit association of book, audio, and video publishers which can be a very cost-effective route into exhibiting at national and international book fairs. In 1994 it launched a mentoring program that Executive Director Jan Nathan says will "assist fledgling
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publishers in getting started and hopefully avoiding catastrophic mistakes." Contact this organization at
PMA 2401 Pacific Coast Highway, Suite 102 Hermosa Beach, CA 90254 310-372-2732
Particularly interesting for many small publishers are the PMA's cooperative mailings to libraries. Throughout the year, it targets various categories of acquisition librarians, and the cost to participate is very reasonable. For only $145 and 3,300 copies of your letter-size flyers (which can be printed on both sides) you can reach the college, junior college, and university libraries who are becoming far more electronic-publishing conscious.
There are also PMA mailings to independent bookstore buyers and to genre-specific reviewers, which enable you to participate in effective, well-targeted cooperative catalogs. This can be by far the safest and cheapest way to get details of your title into the hands of reviewers. Each catalog is in a newsletter format, with a typical cost being $145 to feature in an issue sent to nearly 4,000 daily and weekly newspaper reviewers across the U.S.
Your front cover and 100 words of description introduce your title to these reviewers, and they can order review copies easily by sending back an included request card.
Before getting involved in any existing book-marketing efforts, always remember the inherent advantages and disadvantages of the electronic media. Your floppies might get lost among the hardcopies competing for shelf or table space in a cooperative stand at a book fair, or if the pitch is being made to distributors and bookstores who are not really interested in electronic editions.
You might do better with local, regional, national, and highly specialized works targeted at niche markets, if you direct your
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marketing efforts along the information highways as well as the local routes. Used efficiently, they might be the best way to hit your targets. These are among the exciting prospects opened up by the Clinton Administration's policy for open cable, telephone, and data transmission networks that reach into virtually every home and can be used by all information providers. For writers and other creative artists, this is far more significant than concepts like public-access television in providing real electronic muscle to disseminate and market your works.
Unless you already have a clearly defined market, know what that market requires and, equally important, know how to alert it that your product is available, then you must start with some basic research. Fortunately, there are excellent ways to tap into the necessary expertise, much of it developed in the shareware arena where electronic publishing is becoming a major player.
Steve Hudgik, one of the pioneers of electronic publishing in the shareware environment, emphasizes that authors seeking profits "must remember that 80% of what they must do is not related to writing. They must have business skills and, in particular, marketing skills."
"The electronic book," says Steve, "must be more than written--it must be designed in all respects for its target market. This includes software design and the packaging, which does not necessarily refer to the box that something is packed in, but includes aspects such as the opening and closing screens. Also, the distribution channel must be carefully evaluated, courted, sold to, and supplied with product." Steve has lots of marketing and distribution ideas about how authors can be remunerated for their works--and remember that he speaks from experience as, so far, one of comparatively few financially successful electronic self-publishers.
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"Having updates to a book available via modem can be very important," Steve emphasizes, and his HomeCraft business moved quickly into providing on-line services because of his conviction that this will be a major growth area for marketing electronic publications.
When planning your marketing strategy to include on-line facilities, consider carefully if you are targeting readers who will be attracted by the speed and convenience of using a modem. If you have an appropriate concept for such a market sector, you could be on to a real winner.
A basic requirement in any marketing is to be well-informed about what is happening in your markets. Without good intelligence, the odds of succeeding decrease greatly. Fortunately, there are many easy and low-cost ways to keep informed about what is happening in electronic publishing so that your own publications stand the best chance for success or you can identify best where to market your work.
The marketing intelligence you require is very different from that provided in the typical computer magazines. Despite all the new-product hype in the computer magazines, you really don't need, as a self-publishing author, to keep well informed about cutting-edge advances in the technology. If you become part of the obsession to keep up with hardware and software development, you risk wasting time and money and, even worse, losing touch with your markets.
As an electronic publisher, you must never forget that most of your potential readers have systems that are two, three, four, or more years behind the current generation of hardware being touted by the computer industry. While the latest technology might therefore be largely irrelevant to you, you must keep up to date with what people are actually doing with personal computing resources, particularly in the field of shareware distribution and marketing.
Some of the best and hottest information about shareware marketing has been coming in recent years from Jim Hood on Mercer Island in
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Washington, who uses a humble PC-AT with most modest memory and speed capabilities that won't come close to running Windows! Jim has been using comparatively basic hardware to produce sophisticated intelligence about electronic publishing and the shareware industry. It's not the machine that counts, but the human intellect telling it what to do.
The shareware market that Jim monitors so well for electronic authors and publishers ranges from millionaires with substantial corporations to large numbers of entrepreneurs and creative software programmers working from home. These independent software authors established the environment in which electronic self-publishing became possible, and their enterprise and the enormous range of programs they generate continues to fuel the disk libraries, distribution companies, and thousands of bulletin boards that offer you so many opportunities to market your works.
There is no single print publication, or even a combination of books and magazines, that really keep you up-to-date with what is happening in the shareware field. But, at very little cost, you can have ready access to a superb source of continuing informed comment and potentially valuable information through The Electronic Publishing Forum from John Galuszka's Serendipity Systems. Combine this on-disk information services with Bob Schenot's, The Shareware Book, Steve Hudgik's, Writing & Marketing Shareware, and the traffic on the Digital Publishing Association's bulletin board and other on-line services, and you have access to exceptional expertise about the marketing of shareware programs and electronic publications at minimal cost.
You might also want to join the Association of Shareware Professionals (ASP), a very valuable source of information relevant to the marketing and distribution of electronic publications, even if they are not marketed as shareware. ASP members are branching out into such fields as rack vending in supermarkets and department stores, and participating in on-disk catalog collections.
There is a camaraderie and spirit of cooperation in the shareware business that enables these experts to report fully on the bad as well as the good results that electronic authors and publishing
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entrepreneurs experience when they test the enormous range of marketing opportunities available. Remember, however, that most electronic publications are not targeted at computer users per se, but at people in special-interest groups who also have access to personal computers. The medium itself is not necessarily the best way to get your marketing message out.
If you are writing about computing, you probably need to target computer users and can use the shareware distribution and marketing environment to particularly good effect. Everyone venturing into electronic publishing through shareware should read Robert Schenot's, The Shareware Book. It is available electronically through shareware channels and packed with practical information that can be applied to the creation, distribution, and marketing of publications in electronic formats.
This book could save you hundreds--perhaps thousands--of dollars just with Robert's tips about discount postage opportunities. Not only is the content of Robert's book valuable, he also provides an object lesson in practical electronic and hardcopy publishing. An evaluation shareware copy of his book is distributed with very few restrictions for anyone to copy, generating sales for the printed paperback version and a package of useful software programs.
To narrow your focus and link up with a group specifically concerned with marketing electronic publications, consider joining the Digital Publishing Association (DPA). When the history of electronic publishing comes to be written, there will be a special place in it for DPA's founder, Dr. Ronald Albright. Ron is a specialist in internal medicine who found the experience of publishing electronically so fascinating that he wrote one of the first electronic books about it, and established the first association of enthusiasts for this new medium.
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